Panama: Main Sights
Miami of the South
You’ll never struggle to find something to do in or around Panama City. There are a multitude of fantastic attractions and activities to suit every holidaymaker. Discover its many cultural landmarks, magnificent canal and beautiful coastline as well as its stunning and sparkling cityscape. From the Baha'i House of Worship and Metropolitan Natural Park to Old Panama, Panama City has a wealth of world class attractions and sights.
Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is located in Western Panama near the border of Costa Rica. Here, the Caribbean's aqua waters wash up against a dense rainforest and low key town. Bocas is one of Panama's top tourist attractions and with good reason. Where else can you enjoy beautiful beaches with scarcely a soul in sight amid lush and beautiful rainforest? The town itself has a rich history, a lively nightlife and a friendly populace. Like the rest of Panama, Bocas is blessed by nature: no hurricanes ever touch these shores, as they do elsewhere in Central America.
Baha'i House of Worship
On the outskirts of Panama City, 11km from the city center on the Transisthmian Hwy, the white-domed Baha'i House of Worship looms like a giant egg atop the crest of a hill. The inside is surprisingly beautiful, with a fresh breeze always present. The Baha'i House of Worship serves all of Latin America. Information about the faith is available at the temple in English and Spanish; readings from the Baha'i writings (also in English and Spanish) are held Sunday mornings at 10:00 . Any bus to Colón can let you off on the highway, but it's a long walk up the hill. A taxi from Panama City costs around US around US$10.
At the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, a 2km palm tree-lined Calzada connects the four small islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamenco to the mainland. The Causeway is the popular place to be in the early morning and late afternoon when residents head here to walk, jog, skate, and cycle or simply escape the noise and pollution of the city. The Causeway also offers sweeping views of the skyline and the old city, and you can see flocks of brown pelicans diving into the sea here most times of the year. Others arrive here simply to savor the pleasant breeze at one of the Causeway's many restaurants and bars.
At the Causeway entrance, Bicicletas Rali operates a booth where you can rent a bicycle for USaround US$3 per hour or in-line skates for USaround US$1 per hour. If you don't have a vehicle, it's most convenient to take a taxi to the Causeway (USaround US$4 to USaround US$6 ) and to hail another when you're ready to return to town - any of the restaurants or bars can call one for you.
Casco Viejo (Old Compound)
Following the destruction of Panamá, the Spanish moved their city a few kilometres east to a more fortified location. Today, much of this colonial city remains standing, and thanks to rapidly increasing urban renewal, is becoming the centre of a reinvigorated arts, dining and nightlife scene.
Chiriqui, the westernmost province of Panama's Pacific coast, offers visitors the most varied landscapes, ranging from stunning beaches to steep mountains. Cattle ranches, orchid gardens, tropical forests famous with bird watchers, and coastal islands are all icons of this unique region. Visitors coming down the Pan American Highway are welcomed by Chiriqui as soon as they cross the border at Paso Canoa. Alternatively, a six or seven hours' drive up the Panama American Highway, with abundant restaurants and sightseeing along the way will also lead you here, or take a quick thirty minute flight from Panama City.
Fuerte Amador Resort & Marina
At the end of Isla Flamenco, you'll find one of the city's newest attractions, the Fuerte Amador Resort & Marina. This complex contains a two-story shopping center (the Flamenco Shopping Center), a marina, a cruise ship terminal and a number of restaurants and bars. At night, these open-air spots are a big draw, providing a fine setting for cocktails or a decent meal. At the marina, daily boats leave for the nearby resort island of Isla Taboga.
Isla Taboga (Taboga Island)
Grab a boat from the Causeway, look for pods of whales en route and prepare yourself for a day of lounging about on sun-kissed sands. This charming and historical island, 20km (12mi) south of Panama City, has an attractive beach, some lovely protected rain forest, and is home to one of the largest colonies of brown pelicans in Latin America. Known as the Island of Flowers, because at certain times of the year it is filled with the aroma of sweet-smelling blooms, the island is a favorite retreat from the city. Taboga has a long history and was settled even before Panama City. There is a small church here, claimed to be second oldest in the Western Hemisphere, and Pizarro set sail from here for Peru in 1524. The island's annual festival is July 16, and involves nautical processions and celebrations. Taboga is a one-hour boat trip from Balboa.
Instituto Nacional de Cultura (National Institute Of Culture)
Instituto Nacional de Cultura is responsible for maintaining the country's museums and other cultural institutions. There is a small gallery on the 1st floor that displays works by Panamanian artists.
At the foot of Cerro Ancón, on the western side of town, Mi Pueblito features life-size replicas of rural villages found on the Península de Azuero, in Bocas del Toro and in the Darién. It also features extensive shops selling handicrafts from throughout the country and a handful of decent restaurants. Folk dances accompanied by live music are staged on Friday and Saturday at around 18:00 - they're touristy but still worth a look.
The Panama Canal was called "One of the seven wonders of the modern world" when it was constructed, and it is still a hugely impressive endeavour. Many visitors are surprised how much of the canal looks like a wide, slowly flowing jungle river instead of a highly mechanical system of pumping stations and locks. This modern engineering marvel is famous the world over, though nothing can prepare you for the awesome sight of watching hulking vessels traverse any of the canal's three sets of locks. Most visitors choose to visit the Miraflores Locks, which are located next to a shiny new visitors' centre, an open-air restaurant, a museum and a viewing platform. One of the best places to view the canal is only an hour's drive from Panama City, in the Soberania National Park. While you are there, you will probably get to see huge turkey vultures soaring and circling overhead. These huge birds are so numerous that locals refer to them as the "Panamanian Air Force."
Portobello is the jumping off point for Caribbean Coast activity nearest to Panama City. Just under two hours from Panama City, Portobello is an access point to several marina projects in construction on this lovely Caribbean Coastline. For scuba diving lovers, Portobello has one of the best areas of Panamanian Caribbean coast reefs, close the coast and not too deep. In this area several scuba diving schools have been established. Portobello is also one of Panama's richest historical sites. Pirates, including the famous Henry Morgan, were frequent visitors to this town when Spain was using it as a shipping center for valuable loot. Several forts were constructed to protect this natural harbor and these ruins remain today. The most interesting and historic ruins are also the ones most accessible to the visitor. The forts of Santiago and San Geronimo are each but a 5-minute walk from the pier. Even closer is the "Customs House", built in 1630, the remains of the church of La Merced, and the church of San Felipe, the last building to be built by the Spaniards. It was inaugurated in 1814. Its most carefully guarded and priceless relic is a beautifully carved statue of Jesus of Nazareth which, because of the dark wood from which it is made, is known as the "Black Christ".
Panamá Viejo (Old Panama)
Founded in 1519 by the Spanish, Panamá was the first European city on the Pacific coastline of the Americas. Although it was plundered and burnt to the ground by Captain Henry Morgan in 1617, the ruins of this once great city make for wonderful independent exploration.
Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Natural Park)
Perched on the northern edge of the city, this natural retreat for urban dwellers is an expansive stretch of primary and secondary rainforest. The park is home to an enormous diversity of wildlife including rare tití monkeys, sloths, deer and more than 200 species of tropical birds.